Buildings speak louder than words

On the first morning of The Great Transformation – Greening the Economy conference, Alliance 90/Greens Bundestag member Renate Künast was passionately calling for reduced electricity use when she was rudely interrupted.

However, she was not cut short mid-sentence by her fellow panelist, an impatient chairperson or an overexcited audience.

Rather, ironically, it was a few seconds of noise from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung’s (HBS) new open-plan office building itself. A remotely controlled curtain was released in order to allow the full morning light to enter the large auditorium through a long glass-paneled wall. No doubt deliberately timed with the curtain, specially located windows also opened to let the fresh outside air into the room.

According to HBS, the concept behind the building follows three basic principles:
• Intelligent systems with as little equipment as possible that save resources and keep down installation and operating costs.
• Energy is not lost until it leaves the building. Waste heat is recycled in an innovative manner.
• Ventilation and cooling are as natural as possible and give users maximum control.

In quantitative terms, the building consumes 55.7 kilowatt hours of energy/metre squared while the solar system on the roof generates 53 000 kWh of energy every year which is fed into the heating system.

The large auditorium at the new Heinrich Böll Stiftung building

The large auditorium at the new Heinrich Böll Stiftung building

Something harder to measure, but equally important, is how building design can enhance people’s quality of life. Nobody likes to be stuck inside on a nice day, let alone for a conference. But this conference has been all the more enjoyable because of the natural light and air coming in.

Of course it helps to have a view of a beautiful city like Berlin. Still, the principle of limiting our separation from the natural environment through building design can be universal. Furthermore, money can easily be saved in the long term through energy savings.

(Photo by Stephan Röhl).

Renewable returns

The same principle applies for the renewable energy industry where the earlier you invest, the more you will make in return.

In the ‘Towards 100% Renewables’ forum, Martin Rocholl, Policy Director for the European Climate Foundation spoke enthusiastically about ‘Roadmap 2050’.

Using modeling projections for future energy use and pricing, this new study claims that the European Union can plausibly achieve an 80% emissions reduction target by 2050.

According to Rocholl, a former director of Friends of the Earth Europe, some of the typical arguments against renewables are debunked by the research. These include claims that renewables are not cost effective or a reliable and continuing source of energy. Rocholl and supporters on the panel stressed the study’s backing by several large European energy providers.

Values must change

It may be just one building but HBS is walking the walk and setting an example for other organizations still talking the talk. Real change has to begin at home.

This was a theme echoed by many speakers and audience members throughout the day including Künast. Her approach is that a real transformation is needed in the West, where “people are living off the cost of others”.

She was unapologetic in saying that for most of the people in room, predominantly from Germany and other European countries, climate change is not yet an existential threat.

“People are doing add-on green elements but this is not a transformation.”

“The EU has to determine what it wants to be in 20 years time, not just economically but also socially…whether or not financial markets should be primary policy or whether 100% energy renewable should be the target,” says Künast.

For a truly great green transformation to take place “the values we live with have to change.”

by Mark Notaras on May 29, 2010 - Comments (01)  

Our World 2.0 wins a Weblog Award

2008winnerThe official list of winners of the 2008 Weblog Awards was posted on 15 January 2009 and we are delighted to announce that Our World 2.0 won the best blog design category. Over a seven day period, 933,022 votes were cast in 48 categories.

The best blog design finalists included some cool desgns like Pink Yellow Media, Veerle’s and Inhabitat.

In fact it was a very close competition between Our World 2.0 and Inhabitat up to the final day of voting. The best part is that both blogs have a strong environmental thematic.

Already we are seeing people in the blogsophere sharing their comments on the awards. I like this comment from Jungle Jil that captures what we were tryiing to do with the Our World 2.0 design.

“This year’s inaugural winner, OurWorld 2.0, is a fantastic example of gorgeous simplicity matched with fabulous style and superb functionality.”

So we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who voted for Our World 2.0. We also want to express our appreciation to the other finalists and the organizers on a wonderful competition. Now that we know each other, we hope that this can be the start of a long friendship.

by Brendan Barrett on January 16, 2009 - Comments (02)  

Our World 2.0 is a finalist in the Weblogawards 2008

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Some good news for the start of 2009. The Our World 2.0 web magazine is a finalist in the annual weblog awards in the category of Best Blog Design.

We are really delighted about this as it reflects the great design work from Sean and David, and the programme to make it all happen from Oleg.

Voting begins this Monday, and we hope you will take the time to cast your vote online in the Best Blog Design section of the awards.

by Brendan Barrett on January 13, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Communication Arts – Webpick of the Day

Communication Arts - Site of the DaySome exciting news! Our website – Saving the Ayuquila River – has been selected as the webpick of the day by Communication Arts.

To put this in perspective, here is an explanation about CommArts.

“Communication Arts is the premier source of inspiration for graphic designers, art directors, design firms, corporate design departments, advertising agencies, interactive designers, illustrators and photographers—everyone involved in visual communication.”

It is great to see that websites focusing on environmental topics can also get selected as the webpick of the day. This is important international recognition of the excellent work from the team at the UNU and the University of Guadalajara, particularly Sean Wood for the Creative Direction, Janine Googan for the graphic design and animations and Luis Patron as the project coordinator.

by Brendan Barrett on May 21, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Delicious Simplicity with a strong message

The Story of stuff is an easy to understand documentary about the material economy and consumerism presented in a series of cartoons full of good humor.

It is a very creative and effective movie that really makes you think and reconsider how your daily life affects the environment. The presenter, Annie Leonard, explains that we are living in a linear system, that is rapidly using up our planet’s natural resources.

I really like this movie because it is a powerful example of how you can use the Web as an open channel to present ideas. It is simplicity at its best, no over production here! In my view, this is one of the best documentaries that you can find on the net. Go ahead and watch the video below:

by david on February 6, 2008 - Comments (00)  

From Dynamic to Static

MovementWhen we set out to create a static version of our WordPress based online courses we thought that with a little bit of clever programming we could make the conversion in no time. The process turned out to be a lot harder than we had envisaged but we worked out a basic methodology for getting the job done and we would like to share that with you below.
The first step was to download and use Teleport Pro software which crawls through a web site and downloads each page, graphic, etc. and rewrites the links to make the site locally referenced. Paying attention to unnecessary links such as comments and rss feeds while setting up a Teleport project will save you a lot of time later on.
Once the whole site was downloaded we started the tedious process of going through every page and doing a search and replace of multiple lines of html. After trying to do this manually, we realised the best way to proceed was to write a batch script to do the same thing to every html file and this saved a lot of time.
Other issues appeared when we discovered that Teleport Pro does not replace some of the javascript lines included by some of the plug-ins we are using our Wordpress site. This required more manual updating of pages. Also, the “SWF plug-in” we were using caused some minor problems when it created a new version of the player for each instance of a flash video appearing on a page. Our general approach was to keep testing the pages, checking outstanding issues and repeating until each page was working 100%.
The last outstanding issue and one of the largest challenges was to replicate the Wordpress search function by adding a Javascript search function to each page for locally based search. Well, all that sounds simpler than it actually was, but in the end it has been possible to convert three course modules so far from dynamic to static sites. This means that people who want to download the entire course modules can do so and can run them locally or on CD-ROM. This is very important in the parts of the world that are only occasionally connected to the Internet.

by sean on November 20, 2007 - Comments (03)  

Why not build a course in a blog?

Wordpress.jpgThat was a question that emerged in one of our team meetings about a year ago. The idea is simple. How can we make it really easy for virtually anyone to build courses (do it yourself principle)? We had been reading on the web that millions of people are now blogging. So what if millions of people could build their own courses? That is an intriguing thought.
We began playing around with Wordpress and soon realized that it was relatively straightforward to structure a course using the ‘Page Management’ function. The other real benefit of this approach was that the “subject matter expert” could write the pages from anywhere with an Internet connection. This is really important when you are network-university like the UNU. So we got to work and decided to customize the Wordpress template (something that almost every blogger wants to do). We asked Jonathan Snook to develop our first template. We also selected the “plug-ins” that we needed to handle flash video (WP-FLV), searching (Search Pages) and a WSIWYG editor (Xinha4WP).
For the course on SEA, Riki Therivel very kindly allowed us to use her course content. Once all the course content was in place in the blog, we enabled the comment function to allow visitors to engage in discussion around the content, check for inaccuracies and add new information. Many visitors commented on how they would like to download the course materials. So we asked Oleg Butuzov to figure out how and now it is possible to download both static and dynamic versions of the course modules. After you have downloaded the materials, you are free to customize and localize as you see fit. Using a Creative Commons license facilitates this step.

We think that this is a unique and cost effective approach to developing courses. The exciting part about using Wordpress is that it is free, open source and has a large developer community. The important message from all of this is that building and sharing courses with limited resources is infinitely doable. It is quite easy to imagine a purpose built software package that makes the above steps even easier – just click a few buttons and you are done. You would then be free to focus on making sure that the content is rich and engaging.

Sometime soon we will provide a short tutorial on how to create the static and dynamic versions of the course modules, since that is the element that requires the greatest technical skill.

by Brendan Barrett on May 8, 2008 - Comments (012)  

Web site re-design part 2

web site v2 specIn this post, I want to talk about the technologies we used when redesigning our website and also how we were influenced by Web 2.0.
Technology played a large role in determining the style and function of the website. We are a small team here in Tokyo and everyone is expected to contribute to and make updates to the site. So it is essential that updating is easy and can be done for anywhere. We also needed to use a system that was open source so we could not only manage the cost but so that we would not be tied to a proprietary system. After more than a year of experience and testing of different types of systems, we decided on Wordpress as our platform. We chose Wordpress because of it’s flexibility and the availability of lots of plug-ins that allowed for extension beyond the standard installation features.
Web 2.0
Our approach to building the new site was influenced by the idea that we should rely as much as possible on existing web services. For instance, our photos are managed via flickr. This not only impacted the way we upload photos to web site but also on our whole approach to taking and sharing photos. Now we can upload a photo to flickr, write a news item or story for our blog and post the story and image without the need for any assistance by any other team member. And this can be done from anywhere, including while traveling on mission.
We also chose Google Analytics to manage our web site statistics. This tool lets us set different goals to measure the success of different pages, check where in the world visitors are coming from and what kind of bandwidth, so we always have an accurate idea of what types of users are accessing our sites. This in turn helps us better tailor the site content to our visitors’ interests.
For most bloggers, these ideas are not new and this is not rocket science. However, for a UN organisation, this is quite a big step to take and is likely to have a major impact of the way we work. We have lots of other ideas on how to improve upon what we have done so far and we will be happy to share them in the future.

by sean on August 14, 2007 - Comments (00)  

Web site re-design part 1

web site v2 developemntIt is three years since our last major update of our website and we felt that it was time for a change in direction. In two installments, I would like to explain some of the thinking that went into redesign our web presence. Let me start by talking about the “why” and the “how” in this post.
The content on our old site did not accurately represent the name of the site – “Online Learning.” This meant that many visitors were dissatisfied and did not stay around long to explore. In addition, our content had grown stale. So one challenge was to redesign the site so as to make the content more relevant, targeted and easy to understand and as a result to increase our site traffic and exposure on the web.
Our new site development coincided with an internal evaluation of our approach to work. Before we could design the new site we spent considerable time on the philosophy underpinning our work. We recognized that three components – “Build, Share, Collaborate”- represent the core of what we do here in the UNU Media Studio. Using this philosophy as a guide we were able to define our web site goals. Of course, there was debate as to what we should include in the site, how it should work but we all decided that if it didn’t fit with our new philosophy then it would not be included.
In the next post, I will talk about the technologies we used to build the site.

by sean on November 6, 2007 - Comments (02)  

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